Today Vladimir Putin decided to brief Russian ministers on the dangers of unsafe driving. He presented some terrible statistics: in the past four years the economic losses due to traffic accidents added up to 2% of Russia's national GDP. Since 1997, while Russians have put 9% more cars on the streets, auto accidents increased by 30%; last year there were 200,000 registered traffic accidents; the percentage of fatal accidents is 24.7%; the Russian cars (Volgas and Ladas) most available for the general population do not have air bags or ABS systems; and the only reason that analysts can find accounting for the ghastly number of fatal accidents is the complete disregard of traffic laws by everyone -- drivers, police, and pedestrians.
Living in Russia and driving to the countryside, you would quickly get used to seeing black plastic bags on the side of the road -- dead drivers and passengers. The reason for these preventable deaths is simple: there aren't many freeways outside of the city which have one way lanes, usually oncoming traffic is facing each other; the regular speed limit is 55 miles an hour on the freeway and 40 in the city, however everyone goes at least 90, usually 100 mph or more. The author of this article managed to be driven at 160 miles an hour in the city of Moscow by a friend -- that's a frightening and unique experience, though for many it's just a lifestyle choice.
When there's a traffic jam on the road, people prefer to try to go around by driving on shoulders and in opposite (oncoming) lanes. Eventually, in the city and in the country side, you end up with cars going 100 miles an hour facing each other in the same lane, which leads to 200 mph head-on fatal collisions.
It's impossible to honestly get a driving license; period. The system is so corrupt, that even if you are a good driver, you still wouldn't pass the test. You aren't allowed to pass the test using your own car; traffic police have their own vehicles. Usually these vehicles are purposely malfunctioning, and during the test you are asked to do amazing safari kind of tricks. At the end of the day, your fixer is a teacher at the drivers' school, a friend of a friend, who works with police, or you can just cash out on the spot; the standard bribe is $200.
However, all of the above is just kindergarten stuff, compared to the real problem -- government officials. If you look at the pictures above the post -- you will notice brand new Porsches, equipped with the "blue" lights, bullet proof $500,000 Mercedes', going in the opposite lane, and enormous traffic jams, caused by the "security" measures.
Now let's add up these details:
1) There is a federal law, which prohibits police officers from puling over vehicles with the blue lights and "special" number plates - of blue color, or with a big Russian flag, instead of a state code. Parliament made up the law, so that members of parliament, ministers, mayors, etc. may speed with impunity; regular citizens not driving brand new cars with expensive safety features are usually the victims (the cars on the right side of the banner are going in the opposite, oncoming lane!).
2) Government officials' salaries aren't that high these days, anywhere between $200 - $2,000, however, all senior officials and members of parliament manage to obtain multi-million dollar fleets of luxurious sedans, almost always escorted by SUV's filled with armed body guards -- all reinforced with bullet-proof glass of course. By the way, these are the same officials charged with fighting corruption in the country.
3) The armored vehicles alone are not enough; when someone important goes somewhere, which can be a president shuttling back and forth to the Kremlin, or some minister's lover going to his dacha -- the traffic police shut down a freeway, a street, sometimes few freeways (to give an option to the driver of the "princess"), and the shutdown can last more than an hour, sometimes many hours. If you are an honest citizen, and you believe that you have a right to drive this road to get to your house, which is just 2 miles down the road -- better not try, because you can get shot by policemen or bodyguards.
4) The VIP speedpass blue lights, how do people get them? If you are willing to pay a $250-500 daily fee -- you can have one officially, and if you are an important CEO -- it's totally worth the money. Otherwise, you can use your "connections" and bribe to obtaint one for anywhere between $25,000 - $50,000; again, if you have the cash -- it's totally worth it.
The ridiculous part of Putin's meeting today with the bureaucrats is that the bureaucrats and their friends are the biggest road warriors. Traffic jams are unbelievable, the police set an example of drunk(!) and dangerous driving, and again, just like with the corruption deal, the ones who are supposed to be fixing the mess, are the worst offenders.